FFRF sent Whitehead a letter May 28 via her official City email. Asked by the Sierra County Sun to comment, she claimed she never got the letter. Sent a copy of the letter, she still wouldn’t comment.
The letter, written by FFRF Staff Attorney Christopher Line, states, “In its proclamation, the city explicitly endorsed the religious mission and views of the First Baptist Church.
“This proclamation crosses the line because it presents the church’s doctrine as true, indicating that the city endorses its beliefs.
“The City’s official endorsement of the specific religious mission and views of a Christian church poses serious constitutional separation of state and church concerns.”
FFRF goes on to say the “Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution prohibits the government from endorsing, advancing, or promoting religion. Therefore, it is illegal and inappropriate for the City to commend a church for ‘follow[ing] the direction of the Lord.’”
“The separation between state and church is among one of the most fundamental principles of our system of government,” the FFRF letter states.
“The United States Supreme Court has held that public officials may not seek to advance or promote religion. The Supreme Court has specifically stated, ‘If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein.’ W. Va. Bd. of Educ. v. Barnette, 319 U.S. 624, 642 (1943).”
“As an elected official, you are charged with great responsibility and have been given significant trust by your citizens, including those citizens who may not share your religious viewpoints,” the FFRF letter said.
“We ask that the City of Truth or Consequences refrain from issuing proclamations that endorse a specific religious viewpoint or church again in the future. Please inform us in writing of the steps you are taking to uphold the constitutional separation between state and church.”
This is the second time in a month that a local elected official has come under scrutiny by the FFRF.
The FFRF wrote a letter to Sheriff Glenn Hamilton a few weeks ago concerning a May 3 gathering at the New Hope Revival Church.
Hamilton spoke in uniform to congregants of his religious and political beliefs and then deputized them en masse, the FFRF’s lawyer Christopher Line noted, citing a video promoted by New Hope as evidence. This violated the Establishment Clause, Line said.
The Sierra County Commission took the letter seriously, meeting in executive session to discuss it under the Open Meetings Act exemption of “threatened or pending litigation.”
Hamilton, in an interview with the Sun, denied the letter threatened litigation, implying the County Commission held illegal executive-session proceedings.
Since Whitehead will not acknowledge the letter, it is unlikely the City will take it seriously.
According to the FFRF website, “The national Foundation has brought more than 85 First Amendment lawsuits since 1977, and keeps several Establishment law challenges in the courts at all times.”
“The Freedom From Religion Foundation has sounded the alarm bell on a multitude of other First Amendment violations. We act on countless violations of separation of state and church on behalf of our membership and the public, successfully correcting many violations through persuasion and education.”